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August 17, 2007

Blog-a-Book: Amy Tan, rebellious Christian teen

Quill_pen OK, that entry title is a little misleading. I don't think Amy Tan is a Christian in the "born-again" sense that most of us here would understand, but her father was a Christian and she was raised in a Christian church. As she entered her teen years, she began to stray from the straight and narrow -- for example, reading "forbidden books, including Catcher in the Rye, which I had to buy twice because Christian family friends confiscated it from me."

When Tan got caught reading a book on sexuality, her mother enlisted the help of the pastor. Tan writes in The Opposite of Fate:

The minister, whose son had turned me down when I asked him to a Sadie Hawkins Day dance, came to our house to give me good counsel. He said, "If you can just be patient, if you can keep your virtue, one day, God willing" -- here he swept out his arms, envisioning the heavenly promise -- "hundreds of young men will be lined up around the block, waiting to ask you out!" And I thought to myself, Exactly what kind of fool does he take me for?

Besides the glaringly obvious question of why Christians who can't read Catcher in the Rye are going to dances, Tan's story is sadly familiar. In our rush to defend God, we sometimes twist the whole "all things work together for good" thing into a genie-in-a-bottle kind of Christianity. If you can just hold onto your virtue, God will bring you the perfect spouse, or a hundred boyfriends. It's too bad that Tan's skepticism led her away from the church, but she was right to assume there was something foolish about the pastor's statement, well-intentioned though it may have been.

Holding onto one's virtue may not ensure a long line of suitors at the front door. To promise such rings hollow in the ears of the girl who was turned down for the Sadie Hawkins dance, and it rings hollow to the girl whose doorstep remains uncrowded as adolescence gives way to adulthood. Holding onto one's virtue is an act of obedience, not an act of manipulation. Sometimes obedience leads to good things, sometimes it leads to hard things.

If we're going to convince teens in our churches that virtue is worth holding onto, we need to come up with a better answer than "God will bring you a hundred boyfriends."

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How do we deal with the covenant promises, which "are not yes and no" but "yes for those who are in Christ Jesus"?

I've never encountered a good, Biblical explanation that explained the relevant texts.

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